Not quite. “MES” at the National Science Foundation (NSF) refers to “manufacturing enterprise system.” That’s quite different than the conventional reference to MES, “manufacturing execution system,” although manufacturing execution is a piece of NSF’s MES, explains Abhijit Deshmukh, program director for manufacturing enterprise systems at the NSF (Arlington, VA; www.nsf.gov). What’s more, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems also fall under NSF’s MES, while CAD and PLM are in another NSF program, this for engineering design.
Manufacturing enterprise systems design, plan, and control manufacturing beyond a single manufacturing operation. They link the shop floor to the associated procurement and distribution supply chains. NSF’s MES doesn’t have to be global in the “worldwide” sense; it can apply to the shop floors of small companies. As long as multiple processes are involved, that’s an MES. Of course, an MES that extends across supply chains, covering multiple organizations across multiple countries, is golden.
Twice a year, the NSF solicits proposals under the general topic of MES, under the NSF category called “Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation.” A panel of researchers from the manufacturing community reviews these proposals—typically from 50 to 100 are submitted per round—and then decides whether the proposal merits funding and how much that funding should be. (The next window is from September 1 to October 1.) There are two overall goals, says Deshmukh. “One is the basic science that is required to design and operate efficient enterprises. Second, use that fundamental understanding in managing supply chains and enterprises.” The funding goes to researchers in academia, though some goes to non-profit institutions that conduct research. Industry does not get funding from these twice-yearly grant programs.
Yes, NSF has a separate program that lets industry collaborate with academics “to work on a project that has an intellectual question that needs to be answered, but it also has relevance to the industry,” explains Deshmukh. Called GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Liaison with Industry), the funding for this program typically goes to the academic institutions, but it can also be used by industry to send people to academic institutions (e.g., to conduct joint research). GOALI applies to any research involving a university/industry partnership, not just research on MES.
The research, as stated in the proposal synopsis, should “extend the range of analytical and computational techniques addressed to extended enterprise operations, and/or advance novel models offering policy insights or the prospect of implementable solutions.” It can include analytical and computational tools for planning and scheduling manufacturing and distribution operations; methods for evaluating, comparing, and optimizing manufacturing systems, facilities, and procurement and distribution supply chains; tools for monitoring and control-ling manufacturing systems and quality; and methods for personnel planning.
Recently funded topics include realtime manufacturing process control and root-cause analysis, real-time supply chain control, design of reverse manufacturing systems and supply-chains, the affects of personnel rotation and scheduling on learning and forgetting, and reliability and yield analysis in nanofabrication.
The first is “intellectual merit.” Basically, what’s the new science here? What new knowledge will this research develop? The second criteria is “the broader impact [of this research] beyond answering what [the researcher] is very interested in: How will it affect the rest of the world?”
Awardees produce annual and final reports. Also, they publish results of their research projects in academic and research journals, which are available to the broader community. Equally important, says Deshmukh, “most of these projects involve undergraduate and graduate students. The knowledge that is developed gets disseminated through these students and into the industries and organizations they work for or later join.
Whenever a proposal is reviewed, funded or not, the panelists’ reviews are sent to the researcher(s) submitting the proposal. If the proposal is rejected and depending on the feedback from the manufacturing community, many researchers will revise the proposal and resubmit it for the next submission window. Sometimes the feedback is simply to submit the proposal to a more appropriate agency or to another program within the NSF. “Feedback does improve the proposals,” says Deshmukh.